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Strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime: A Blueprint for Progress
August 12, 2009

U.S. Ambassador Susan Burk
Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation

Geneva Center for Security Policy
Wednesday, August 12. 2009
Geneva, Switzerland

AMBASSADOR BURK: I want to thank Ambassador Streuli very much, and the Geneva Center for Security Policy for inviting me to speak to you this evening. This is, in fact, my first public presentation since I arrived on the job, and as he said, I’m the new kid on the block this year, but I have many years of experience in this area which I’m hoping will hold me in good stead over the next year as we prepare for the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

I’m here to speak to you this evening on the subject of strengthening the international nuclear nonproliferation regime. This is an objective that the Obama Administration has embraced as one of its highest priorities, and we are engaged in an ambitious effort to address proliferation challenges and opportunities to strengthen the global regime. Being ambitious means the way ahead will be difficult, but there is little of value that comes easily, and we have opportunities now to make real progress if all states work together to take advantage of them.

Let me start with a review of the challenges we are facing today within the nonproliferation regime. Then, to address the way forward, I’d like to use the three pillars of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, as the structure for describing various measures the United States believes the international community has available to buttress the NPT and the broader regime.

For years, membership in the NPT grew steadily, and with it a certain complacency about the strength of the Treaty, except – for some – regarding the pace of nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapon states. Those are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. In part, this was because to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT were meeting their obligations; there was nothing to talk about there.

But this complacency was shattered with the 1991 discovery of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear activities during the first Gulf War, in violation of the NPT. This, coupled with the declaration by the IAEA in 1993 that they were unable to verify the exclusively peaceful use of nuclear material in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, leading it to announce its plans to withdraw from the Treaty, further signaled the need for States Parties to pay attention to issues of compliance.

More recent developments underline the gravity of the nonproliferation challenge today. We have witnessed growing commercial availability of sensitive nuclear technology, as demonstrated by the activities earlier this decade of the global criminal network led by A.Q. Khan; North Korea’s announced withdrawal from the NPT, even as it pursued a nuclear weapons program; the difficulties in bringing either North Korea or Iran into compliance with the NPT, even after their violations had been discovered and formally reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA; and finally, the limitations of international safeguards exposed, for example, by the construction of a covert nuclear reactor in Syria.

All of which leads to a final challenge which is the perception on the part of some that the NPT is approaching collapse and that further proliferation is inevitable; we must simply learn to live with it. That is a view that is wrong and must be refuted.

On April 5 of this year in Prague, President Obama said, “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” I’ve said I’m memorizing that speech and I’ll have it memorized by next May, but I haven’t memorized it completely yet.

This landmark speech outlined an agenda designed to move the world closer to that goal – a world without nuclear weapons. Later in that speech, President Obama called on all nations to come together to strengthen the NPT, which remains the cornerstone of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. He said, and again I quote, “The basic bargain (of the NPT) is sound: countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy.”

But we must now work to renew and reinvigorate that basic bargain, and to shore up the nonproliferation regime that has become so essential to our security.

Traditionally we describe the NPT as having three pillars – nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy – the elements of the basic bargain I just mentioned. These pillars are integrally related and interdependent. Without nonproliferation, it would be too risky to expand nuclear energy worldwide, and would undermine efforts to pursue nuclear disarmament. Without disarmament, international support for nonproliferation would be insufficient to ensure the regime can meet the challenges I have described.

Our efforts to renew the nuclear bargain require us to reinvigorate the disarmament pillar of the NPT. In support of our commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, the President stated that the United States will reduce the numbers and the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and will urge others to do the same. There are interim steps we can take that will not only move us closer to this goal, but also reinforce the global nonproliferation regime and raise the barriers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons and materials by terrorist groups.

In one of these steps, the United States and Russia are making progress in the negotiation of a follow-on agreement to START. At their recent summit meeting in Moscow, Presidents Obama and Medvedev issued a Joint Understanding that will guide the remainder of the negotiations. The Joint Understanding establishes for both sides the objective of reducing and limiting their strategic offensive arms so that seven years after entry into force of the treaty and thereafter, the limits will be in the range of 500-1100 for strategic delivery vehicles, and in the range of 1500-1675 for their associated warheads. The treaty will include effective verification measures drawn from the experience in implementing START. Achievement of a legally binding and effectively verifiable agreement will set the stage for further cuts and eventually a disarmament process that includes all nuclear weapon states.

The President also committed to, “immediately and aggressively pursue United States ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” Once ratification is achieved, the Obama Administration will work hard with others to ensure that the other requirements for CTBT’s entry into force are met at the earliest possible time.

In addition, the United States committed to seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons purposes. After ten years of gridlock, Geneva’s Conference on Disarmament adopted a robust program of work that includes negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty that provides for international verification. The United States looks forward to working with its CD partners to conclude this important agreement. Pending that result, we have reaffirmed our decades-long unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

So the stage is set for important progress on disarmament and arms control. The political will is there. But the nonproliferation pillar of the NPT, whose goal is to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons, is also being tested, and there is work to do.

It is important to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of states that have joined the NPT are abiding by their treaty obligations. Unfortunately, a small number of states are not. They have used their membership in this agreement as a vehicle to gain access to assistance with their nuclear efforts, and then, regrettably, have violated the rules of the Treaty – rules that all other parties are following.

Stemming proliferation requires that the international community work together to discourage and denounce such violations. As President Obama said in Prague, “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. This world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons.” It is important that all nations stand together to build a strong regime, but the almost 190 Parties to the NPT have a special responsibility for upholding that Treaty.

The IAEA has served as the NPT’s principal verification instrument. Over the years, the Agency’s membership has adopted additional measures to enhance its ability to verify states’ compliance with NPT obligations in response to events that have exposed weaknesses in the safeguards system. Most recently, the IAEA has developed the Additional Safeguards Protocol to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities.

The United States brought into force the Additional Protocol earlier this year and will continue to encourage its adoption by all states. I would note here that at the June meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General El Baradei provided the most compelling reason for pursuing universal adherence to the Additional Protocol when he said, “Without an Additional Protocol, we can only talk about declared nuclear material. We have learned since 1991 in Iraq, that if any country tries to divert nuclear material, they don´t divert from declared material, they divert through a clandestine programme.”

But it is not enough to detect violations. The costs of violating the treaty must outweigh the benefits. Noncompliance must be met with real consequences. The record in this area in the past has been poor, and it is imperative that the international community produce the necessary political will to halt this dangerous problem.

We must also act to discourage abuse of the NPT’s withdrawal provision. Parties have the right to withdraw from the Treaty, with a 3-month advance notice of withdrawal to all other Parties and the UN Security Council, and this notice must include a statement of the extraordinary events that jeopardize its supreme interests. NPT Parties should consider how we can use this period of time to address the circumstances of a Party’s withdrawal, as well as the impact of a withdrawal on the effective functioning of the international nonproliferation regime. The parties to the NPT must be prepared to consider this important issue next May. We’re looking forward to working together to develop concrete approaches to take forward President Obama’s call in May for “consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the Treaty without cause.”

We must also work together to secure the materials terrorists need to build a nuclear weapon. A lot of progress has been made in this area, but much more needs to be done. The United States has announced its plans to host a Global Summit on Nuclear Security next year to address the dangers of vulnerable materials and give direction to ways that concerned governments can collaborate to counter this serious problem.

The third pillar of the NPT calls for international cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. For many years, nations have harnessed peaceful uses of the atom in energy generation, agriculture, medicine, mining and manufacturing. Nuclear science is vitally important to the social and economic development of many countries. Strengthening this pillar of the Treaty is more important than ever, especially when one considers the renewed interest in nuclear power as a response to climate change, energy security, and the promotion of sustainable development.

President Obama has called for a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including the creation and use of an international fuel bank, so that countries seeking nuclear power can access it more easily and cost effectively without the need to develop their own fuel production capabilities. The goal is not to deny countries access to fuel cycle technologies, but rather to encourage nuclear energy’s growth and provide affordable access to nuclear energy without increasing global proliferation risks.

I have described a number of initiatives and other steps that can set us on a path toward greater international security and allow us to meet the genuine economic and social needs of countries embarking on or expanding their civil nuclear programs. Their success is predicated on the assumption that all states – those that possess nuclear weapons and those who have foresworn them – have a responsibility for doing their part to advance our collective security.

The United States and other nuclear weapon states bear a special responsibility under the NPT to pursue nuclear disarmament. President Obama has described his agenda for meeting this responsibility, and we will pursue it with resolve.

But non-nuclear weapon states bear no less responsibility to work constructively and actively to prevent further proliferation and help create the conditions for nuclear disarmament efforts to succeed. The responsibility does not end with their decision to forswear a nuclear weapons capability and to accept IAEA safeguards to verify their commitments. It must continue through the participation of those non-nuclear weapon states in rigorous, collective efforts to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons. These efforts benefit the international community as a whole, whose collective security and well-being is threatened by the spread of those weapons. Through such efforts all states can help create the conditions necessary to achieve the nuclear free world that we seek.

Next May, the nearly 190 states parties to the NPT will meet in New York to review the implementation of that Treaty. This meeting will include both a look back, and a discussion of, and, hopefully, agreement on the way forward. We believe there exists a new energy and a new commitment to use the 2010 Review Conference as an opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce this indispensible Treaty. We hope it will generate valuable momentum for our collective efforts in Vienna, New York, Geneva and elsewhere to meet the challenges and advance the nonproliferation and disarmament agenda. The United States will be working hard with our partners to seize the opportunities that we have before us.

That ends my formal remarks. I’d like to thank you all again. This is such a distinguished group, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to speak to you tonight. And I look forward to trying to answer your questions. Thank you.